Antonio Banderas on the pain and glory of working with Pedro Almodóvar

Antonio Banderas is nominated for an Oscar for “ Pain and Glory ,” in which he plays an aging film director with debilitating physical and mental health problems, plus regrets about some life choices. 

Banderas says the big question in the film is: What are we? “Are we the things that we did and we said? Or are we the things that we wanted to do and we never did? The things that we wanted to say and we never said? Are we our dreams too?”  

This is Banderas’ eighth film with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. The two had worked together in the 1980s, but they took a break when Banderas left Spain for Hollywood, and starred in big budget films such as “Philadelphia,” “The Mask of Zorro,” and “Spy Kids.”

Banderas tells Press Play that his character in “Pain and Glory” is Almodóvar’s alter ego. “I never had even the remote thought that I was going to play him, or that I was going to make a movie in which the person that is directing me is the character that I am playing, which is a very strange and odd experience,” he says. 

Banderas describes Almodóvar’s work ethic: “Almodóvar is a very, very demanding, meticulous, tough director. It is not easy working with him. He is the leader of every single department in the movie. And he got very precise ideas of what he wants -- from you and from everybody else. And if you contradict that … it's complicated.”

Left to Right: Antonio Banderas, Pedro Almodóvar 
© El Deseo. Photo by Manolo Pavón. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

He says he butted heads with Almodóvar during his career. 

But he figured out a way to get what he wanted. “I developed a whole entire system in the 80s, actually, to introduce my ideas and make him think that they were his,” Banderas says. 

He adds that people might’ve thought they were screaming at each other, but it wasn’t quite like that: “No, no, no. It was all more subtle. But there was tension there.”

He adds, “We did a couple of versions of every scene. You know, his version, my version. Of course, when I saw the movie in the Toronto Film Festival, only his versions arrived. My version is somewhere in Madrid in a trashcan, which is the thing that should happen because he's the director, and he makes the decisions.”

Coping with life’s challenges 

Antonio Banderas as Salvador. © El Deseo. Photo by Manolo Pavón. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

In “Pain and Glory,” the character Salvador Mallo must come to terms with his decay. He’s been in physical pain for some two decades. He has back problems and intense migraines. He’s isolated because he can’t go anywhere. 

“He's saving himself through art and through cinema, his big passion. That's his way to actually cope with the problem,” Banderas says. 

He adds that when they were shooting the movie, director Almodóvar was getting out of a similar situation. He describes, “I have never seen Pedro so happy in my life. … Because of the things that he wanted to say and he never said. … And that’s one of the reasons that I think the movie connected so strongly and so deeply with people. … You look back, of course there are certain forgiveness that you’re going to give, and certain forgiveness you’re going to ask for [sic].” 

As for himself, one of Banderas’ big challenges was recovering from a heart attack three years ago. He says it changed his life: “I became a different person. It’s [the heart attack] one of the best things that ever happened in my life. … You take the veil off your life, and you see the reality of it, and then you start enjoying life in a different way.” 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir